Maytinee Kramer/ Staff Writer
The World Health Organization , the public health agency of the United Nations, reports that more than half a billion of the world’s adults are now obese. In the United States alone, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 34 percent of men and 38 percent of women are obese.
Because obesity is such a huge epidemic, governments should implement a tax on sugary drinks in the range of 20 percent to 50 percent, just as the WHO recommended.
Obesity is abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health, and is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or above. It‘s associated with many different health risks, namely an increased risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
An estimated 442 million people live with the chronic disease, which caused 1.5 million deaths in 2012 and more than 76,488 Americans died of diabetes in 2014.
WHO officials say that consumption of added sugar is the root of these ills, and this includes not just table sugar but honey, syrups and fruit juice concentrates added into processed foods.
With this in mind, the recommended tax shouldn’t be limited to soda. Rather, the tax should apply to all sugar-sweetened beverages, which includes sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit punch, sweetened iced tea, vitamin waters and lemonade.
“If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives,” Dr. Douglas Bettcher, the director of the WHO Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases said to NPR. “They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services.”
Earlier this year, Philadelphia passed a tax on sweetened beverages. Researchers also documented a decline in sales of sugary drinks in Mexico after a tax was passed in 2014. At Berkeley, a tax on sugary drinks passed with 75 percent of the vote.
A study this summer in the American Journal of Public Health found that five months after the penny-per-ounce tax passed, consumption of sugary drinks fell 21 percent among low-income Berkeley residents. Meanwhile, consumption rose 4 percent in neighboring Oakland and San Francisco, where no soda tax was implemented.
Consumption of sugary drinks is fueling obesity rates, which is why the best way to help curb excessive weight and prevent chronic diseases is by taxing sugar-sweetened beverages. In short, a sugar tax increases the price of sugary drinks, and as a result, people will buy less of them, meaning they will consume less, too. The tax could also reduce the price of fresh fruits and vegetables, encouraging people to buy them more.
However, implementing a soda tax is easier said than done. There will be arguments related to fairness (consumption taxes are a bigger burden for poor than rich people); freedom, the government shouldn’t interfere with one’s personal choice of what to drink; trust, officials won’t spend the tax revenue as they are supposed to; and economics, small businesses will be harmed if taxes discourage sales.
Taxation policies can be a very important tool, but it is just one tool among many. Apart from simply taxing sugary drinks, people need to be more aware of what they are consuming. Taxing will make people more mindful of what they are buying due to prices, but it all really boils down to being educated about healthy eating and exercising daily. Overall, the link between tax policy and reduced consumption coupled with health benefits can prevent obesity.
The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of FIU Student Media Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.
Image retrieved from Flickr.
First, it’s important to recognize that beverages are not causing the rise we’ve seen in obesity and obesity-related conditions like diabetes. This is evidenced by the fact that obesity rates continued to rise while soda consumption dropped steadily at the same time.
Therefore, contrary to the World Health Organization’s latest report, taxing sugar-sweetened beverages is not a productive means of combating obesity or promoting real health behavior change. Critics such as food lawyer and professor Baylen Linnekin recently criticized WHO’s recommendation, calling the proposal “wrong and unjustified,” and citing a number of unintended consequences: http://bit.ly/2dieuek.
As we have consistently said, taxes don’t make people healthy. Rather than attempting a Band-Aid fix, we should work together to advance real and lasting solutions that will help people to balance all they eat and drink, not just the very small portion of calories we get from beverages that contain sugar. Information on how to maintain a balanced lifestyle and lower-calorie choices to help achieve it is the realistic approach that works. Via our Balance Calories Initiative, America’s leading beverage companies are working to reduce beverage calories in the American diet by 20 percent nationally by 2025 by offering more lower- and no-calorie choices and smaller sizes and then finding ways to get people to try them. Education and collaboration can make a meaningful impact on public health challenges; taxes do no such thing.